HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is making a campaign issue of his handling of the 2012 mass school shooting in Newtown, using it as he seeks a second term to highlight his leadership during difficult times.
Malloy's second television ad, released Monday, features Nicole Hockley, whose son Dylan was one of 20 children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Hockley credits the Democratic governor with having "the courage and conviction to stand up and do the right thing." The 30-second spot comes on the heels of an ad that mentions his leadership when "unimaginable evil let loose in a school."
Both ads mention Malloy's handling of other crises Connecticut has faced during his tenure, including a massive budget deficit and Superstorm Sandy.
State Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola Jr. accused Malloy of trying to exploit the mass shooting, as well as Sandy, for political gain. In a statement, Labriola contends the latest ad shows that Malloy, who is expected to face a challenging re-election fight, is desperate and trying to distract voters from his economic record.
Malloy's two Republican challengers, businessman Tom Foley and Sen. John McKinney, either declined to comment on the ad or referred questions to the state GOP.
Mark Bergman, a senior adviser to Malloy's campaign, said Hockley reached out to them and said she wanted to help Malloy get re-elected.
"It was a generous offer on her part and we're honored to have her support," said Bergman, adding that Malloy's leadership during and after the Sandy Hook shooting "received widespread praise and is part of his record. And his record is an important part of this campaign."
Hockley confirmed she offered her support and said she disagrees with critics who say Malloy is taking advantage of tragedy.
"This was an incredibly significant part of his most recent term," she said.
Hockley said her words in the ad are her own. "It's not like there was a script or anything like that. I just spoke from the heart," she said.
Khalilah Brown-Dean, an associate professor of political science at Quinnipiac University, said she believes Malloy's campaign had to include his response to Newtown.
"This is sort of that elephant in the room, so to speak. This is a tragedy that happened in this state," she said, adding that it makes sense for Malloy to reference Newtown considering that the shooting prompted new gun control legislation, which likely will be an issue in the general election, especially if Foley wins the Aug. 12 primary. Foley has been critical of the bill, unlike McKinney, who supported the legislation.
Brown-Dean said she thought Malloy's campaign "masterfully" handled the issue in the first ad, by making a generic reference to the shooting. She said the second ad "takes this to the next step" by including one of the victim's parents. But Brown-Dean said Sandy Hook is different from other tragedies because so many of the parents, including Hockley, have become politically active since the event.
"I think it was tasteful given the context," she said. "Here you have a parent who has been very vocal about this, who has actively engaged politicians and engaged the policy."
She likened Malloy's ads to former congresswoman and shooting victim Gabrielle Giffords' attempt to present a more nonpartisan approach to addressing gun violence. Brown-Dean said when the issue of gun control came up during a presidential debate between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore in 2000, a year after the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, it was a "disaster" for both candidates because the Columbine families were not engaged in the political discussions.